The Evening and the Morning

And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. . . . And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:7-8, 10b)

This was not judgment day — only morning. Morning: excellent and fair.      (William Styron, Sophie’s Choice)

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Russell Banks: 1940-2023 (Actually, Immortal)

Russell Banks (photo credit Bryan Mann, NPR, 10 Jan., 2021)

Browsing the “Books and Arts” section of the Wall Street Journal today (matutinal guilty pleasure #2, close on the heels of “Opinion”), I glanced at a small headline in the lower left-hand corner, revealing the death of Russell Banks. I didn’t read the article, was, instead, so powerfully reminded of my first encounter with the writings of Russell Banks, that I opened Apple Messages and typed to a dear friend and colleague in the English Department, “Russell Banks has died.” My use of the present perfect tense was based on my assumption that Banks died yesterday. I included a brief snippet of what would become this post, with a link attached. It was only later, after deciding that this event was momentous enough to commemorate on my blog, that I learned my mistake: Russell Banks actually died on January 7. It hardly matters. He is immortal because of the personal story I am about to tell—and the short story I am about to share with you. Continue reading

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Follow-up on sharing my own wisdom (such as it is)

Peter Paul Rubens, “The Dying Seneca” (1615)

In my previous post, “An Accident on the Wheel of Fortune,” I mentioned a book that plays a significant part in the way I start each day. The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman comprises 365 brief daily meditations based on the philosophy of Stoicism, each with an epigraph from one of its ancient Roman practitioners. Yesterday, in my haste to pour out my feelings about accident and fate and gratitude, I neglected to read the daily meditation. Returning to it today, I find that its focus was—as usual—perfectly attuned to that of my own thoughts.

It begins with a delightful quote from Seneca the Younger: “It’s a disgrace for an old person . . . to have only the knowledge carried in his textbooks. Zeno said this . . . What do YOU say? Cleanthes said that . . . What do YOU say? How long will you be compelled by the claims of another? Take charge and stake your own claim—something posterity will carry in its notebook.” The editors’ explication ends with this advice (a version of which I say to each student who crosses the threshold of my English 111 classes): “Your own experiences have value. You have accumulated your own wisdom too. Stake your claim. Put something down for the ages—in words and also in example.” Continue reading

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An Accident on the Wheel of Fortune

My experience behind the wheel
I am told that around 8:00 p.m. on October 28, 2022, I had a car accident. Empirical evidence certainly supports such a hypothesis. If the picture alone isn’t enough, I can report that I had extensive bruising between my knees and on both breasts, a minor liver laceration with internal bleeding, and an Uber ride home from the emergency room wearing only a hospital gown (dress stolen, bra cut off) and blue hospital socks (shoes remained in the car). I received a substantial payoff for my car, which was a total loss, and a verdict of “case dismissed” from the magistrate  of the Hoke County traffic court.  Oh, and as recently as yesterday I still managed to find little pieces of shattered safety glass in the pocket of my leather jacket.

Otherwise, I don’t even know that it happened. I remember turning on my signal, entering the left-turn lane, looking carefully to my right (I am a cautious driver with a previously unblemished driving record), and then pulling out as I did every night, usually after dark, at the same intersection about two miles from home. I saw headlights coming towards me, but I made the instant calculation that pressing hard on the accelerator would get me safely out of the way. It turns out I must have been mistaken. Those lights and that decision are the last thing I remember until I was lying in an ambulance and being asked to tell what happened. I didn’t know because I was mercifully spared the entire experience—the sounds of crash and sirens, the jolt and pain of impact, even the terror itself. After answering to the best of my ability all the questions put to me by paramedic and state trooper, I made my first telephone call: “I think I have been in an accident.” Continue reading

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Walk Together—and Teach: Advent Words 1, 2, and 3

Ecce Ancilla Domini (Behold the handmaiden of the Lord) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1849)

Brief reflections on my own 26 Advents
I first experienced the Anglican liturgy and its repository, the Book of Common Prayer—where I found a home for my rootless soul—on the first Sunday of Advent 1996. Can there be a more perfect story than that of a 43-year-old woman, broken in spirit, whose life changed when she walked through a door that invited “Enter Here in Peace” on the first Sunday of the liturgical year?

But that is an old and oft-told story.  [If you’re interested in former, fuller tellings, take a gander at the three previous—and somewhat random—links.] I mention it only because since that first Advent entered the mythos of my life, the season of hope, waiting, and expectation that we enter today has become a spiritual sanctuary for me, always a dependable source of renewal and redirection and recalibration. And reawakening, I might add.

And because writing has been my most reliable way of approaching the Truths in my life, I have been writing about Advent since 1999 or so. For a few years recently, I have taken part in #AdventWord, an online Advent calendar through which people around the globe and in several languages share their daily thoughts and images about words pre-assigned for each day of Advent. In 2017, I even chose as my Advent discipline to write a blog post every day in which I meditated on the assigned word (you can find all these posts by typing “Advent Word” in the search field to the right; but I digress with self-promotion!).

This year, I once again signed up for #AdventWord, but I didn’t approach the assignment with such intentional rigor. However, when I opened the first daily email this morning, I knew I had to take at least the first step of the journey. For today’s word is WALK. Honestly, I had previously pondered how to write about this word and realized that the thousands of steps I took (with photographs) in the last few years might provide some fodder for contemplation. But then the past week happened, and plans have changed drastically—because the life of someone I hold very dear has changed drastically. Continue reading

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Rights, Reliance, Ruth . . . and More: “R”eflections on Roe

Abortion rights demonstrators gather at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, June 24. Rick Bowmer/AP

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, R-Ga., at the Supreme Court. Tyrone Turner/NPR

In the unlikely event that global warming has put you into a perpetual state of estivation, I will open with what is now clearly yesterday’s news: As expected since May 3, when Josh Gerstein and Alexander Ward of Politico, in direct violation of the customary secrecy of Supreme Court deliberations, leaked the draft majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Court announced on June 24 its 6-3 decision to overturn 1973’s landmark case Roe v. Wade (410 U. S. 113), holding: ”The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.” Continue reading

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A Different Path into Mystery—at the Intersection of Science and Religion

A bit of somewhat relevant background 
In mid-May, as a lay preacher at the small Episcopal parish of St. Mary Magdalene in Seven Lakes, North Carolina, I presented the homily for the Office of Morning Prayer. My talk, “The Ineffable Mystery: To Know God and Make Him Known,” took as its starting point Walter T. Stace’s famous dictum: “Either God is a mystery, or he is nothing at all.” As suggested by the lectionary and the collect of the day, I directed my thoughts toward locating glimpses into that mystery by seeking to know God the Father through the example of Jesus his Son.

Even as I finished my preparations for speaking, however, I knew there would be a coda. I just wasn’t ready for it yet.

During a few long walks, I had listened with both delight and wonderment to Alan Lightman’s whimsical but thought-provoking Mr g: A Novel About the Creation. As I wrote my talk about various possibilities for approaching God’s mystery, passages from this little novel kept buzzing in my head. But I didn’t feel I could express their hints adequately without actually reading the words on the page (and doing my usual underlining and annotating and peppering with asterisks and exclamation points and question marks). Reading ground to a halt in the midst of end-of-semester essay grading, so I was just about halfway through the novel when I spoke at church. However, summer arrived, and I can now attest that having the leisure to savor the language and contemplate the insights was well worth the wait. Continue reading

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The Ineffable Mystery: To Know God and Make Him Known

Photo by Vicki Bozzola Derka

In medias res . . . If I wish to tell this story at all, I will have to begin in the midst of things. Is there really any other way to begin, I wonder? Who knows when anything started? I can testify that the narrative arc of my spiritual life has taken a steadily upward trajectory since midyear of 2021, during a “damp, drizzly November in my soul”—even though the calendar said it was late summer. I can pinpoint the moment when I once again began speaking to God—and he to me—and trace the meandering paths I have taken since those first tentative communications. And I will, soon. It is important for me to share this piece of my journey. But today, I want to tell a much more recent part of the story while it’s fresh and clear. I promise to fill in the blanks in upcoming weeks as I revel in the free time of summer vacation with only two classes on my calendar.

Several miraculous turns of fate have granted me the opportunity to use my gifts in ways that have been prevented or shunned for more than 15 years in a spiritual wasteland. The talk I have shared below is the result of one of them. I am in the process of being licensed as a lay minister in a small congregation of the Episcopal Church, St. Mary Magdalene in Seven Lakes, North Carolina. Planning a well-deserved vacation, the vicar asked me to present the homily at the liturgy of Morning Prayer on Sunday, May 15, (the 5th Sunday of Easter, Year C, for those who keep up with the lectionary).

With humility and gratitude, I accepted the assignment, and in the same spirit, I am sharing my somewhat revised remarks below simply because I believe the Lord had and has something important for me to say. And because the intent of my message was to highlight means seeking to know God and make him known in face of the ineffable mystery that he must remain, in my next post, I will share another relevant discovery. Stay tuned. We’re always in medias res.

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Now Available at a Walmart Near You . . .

For those who didn’t graduate from high school 50 years ago and/or aren’t fans of science fiction, let me share this teaser—made even more chilling by the fact that the tagline begins, “The year was 2022.” Continue reading

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Be Careful What You Delete!

Yesterday, I saw this challenge on Facebook. My snarky response was “Government of the offended, by the offended, and for the offended. Unfortunately, I’m afraid it will never perish from the Earth.” I could probably make an entire post about that desideratum inspired by Lincoln’s peroration at Gettysburg. But for now, my mind is actually on some of the other responses I read. Continue reading

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